With two days in Bordeaux, you'll find plenty of bargains and indulgences to choose from, from tiny pastries to incredible wine tours.
If there's one thing I learned from my recent trip to Bordeaux, it's that there's no period of time too short or too long to explore. If you have a tiny layover, you can still cram in a wonderful visit. And if you have a week, a month, or even more, you would have no problem filling the time. But for most visitors, I'd argue that 48 hours is a great introduction to this gorgeous French city. My perfect two days in Bordeaux starts like this:
With a coffee and canelé (or three...) in hand, I head to the market, weaving my way along some of the city's best shopping and sight seeing streets. I'm hoping it's a Saturday, as the market is always extra busy then. Then I head over to my favourite wine shop for some amazing browsing, free samples, and maybe pick up a few bargain-priced bottles for later. Next door is le Grand Théâtre, where I'll pop in to see if there are some frugal last-minute tickets to be had. Nearby is the tourism board, where many wine country tours depart from. That's how I'll spend my afternoon, exploring two or three Chateaux. I'd spend my evening at the opera or maybe having dinner in wine country.
Come day two, I'd have a leisurely start with croissants and cafe au lait, before heading to one of the free Sunday attractions listed below. I'd splurge on a wonderful lunch at La Cite du Vin, tour the exhibits, and finish with a free glass of wine. I'd sneak in one more freebie museum or attraction and finish up with some shopping or maybe check out one of the recommend walking routes in my guidebook.
Now your perfect two days in Bordeaux might look exactly like this - or it might be totally different! In an effort to break down some of your best value options, I'm listing my favourite "saves", "splurges", and "steals" so you can craft your perfect trip, at your perfect price point. No matter what you choose or how long you go, I'm certain you'll love Bordeaux as much as I did.
Save: Wine at the city's best wine shop
L'Intendant isn't just the best wine shop in Bordeaux. Many people think it's the best in all of France and, while I'm no expert, I'm inclined to agree. 15,000 bottles are spread out over five floors arranged around a huge circular staircase. It's a gorgeous, glorious dream for photographers and oenophiles alike - but bargain hunters aren't excluded. There are great deals hanging around the front door in baskets for as little as six Euros. Admittedly, you might get more value (depending on how you see things...) from indulging in a long conversation with the knowledgeable staff and using their expertise to guide the purchase of a once-in-a-lifetime bottle. But the low-priced beauties at the front door offer more bang for your buck than anything you'll find at home. If you can, try to shop on a Saturday morning, when wine tastings are often offered.
PS: You can pick up cushioned, reusable wine travel bags for just a dollar or two - just ask the staff.
Save: Browse the market
Browsing a farmer's market is a classic low-cost item of any save, splurge, steal list and Bordeaux's Marche des Capucins is no exception. You'll find fresh produce, bread, assorted bric-a-brac, cheese, meat, and even shellfish and wine. I brought a copy of Lonely Planet's Pocket Bordeaux guidebook (<-- Buy it on Bookshop.org, which supports independent book sellers) with me and I followed one of their recommend walking routes to make my way to the Marche, passing by many interesting monuments along the way.
Save: Check out the free attractions and museums
You know how much I love a freebie! I'm happy to report that Bordeaux has several notable attractions and museums which are free or offer free admission at select times. They include:
Save: Treat yourself to a canelé
Mmmmmmmm canelés! Crisp and caramelized on the outside, soft and custardy on the inside, these little sandcastle-shaped pastries are a signature Bordeaux flavour. The moist, dense dough of a canelé relies heavily on egg yolk (said to be the frugal use of leftovers from old fashioned wine clarification techniques which employ egg whites) and is flavoured with vanilla and a hint of rum. You'll find them everywhere, from mom and pop bakeries to regional chains that have shops on every corner. I ate several a day during my trip, and I highly recommend you do the same.
Loath as I am to recommend chains in a general sense, I do love these ubiquitous shops because they offer teeny-tiny canelé that are literally just one bite, super-sized mega pastries, and tasty variations, like chocolate dipped. You'll see canelé shops everywhere, including just outside the Bordeaux train station, which I happily visited to use up all the five and ten cent coins cluttering up my purse.
Splurge: A meal with a view
When I first came to Bordeaux in 2001, I was overjoyed when I visited a small bakery late one afternoon and the proprietress put an extra croissant in my bag. I joked with her about this small gift, using a combination of shaky French and gestures to say that all the goodies would make my body expand. She smiled and shrugged, as if to say that it was a small price to pay for fine pastry. I was on the budget-of-all-budgets, traveling Europe on an average of $35 a day (yep, including accommodations), and a free croissant was no small matter.
Fast forward twenty years and I find myself at a table in Le 7, the flagship restaurant of La Cite du Vin. It is exactly the kind of splurge I dreamed of indulging in when I was a young backpacker. It offers incomparable views, excellent service, and a pricey menu. Is it a tad overpriced? Perhaps. Is it designed with visitors in mind as opposed to locals? But of course. Did it delight me in every way possible? You bet it did.
I naturally ordered three courses with wine and cappuccino at the end and it was the full, rich, delicious meal of my dreams. I snuck in and nabbed a table for one just as the lunch service was beginning but I suspect that you might like having a reservation for a larger party or if you're arriving closer to 1:00 PM. Since my visit, there appears to be a new lunch menu in which main courses are 19 Euros and a main with dessert is 26 Euros - a great deal if you ask me.
If I were to do it all over again, I would come here for lunch first, take my time, and then explore La Cite du Vin (which I talk about below). The main reason for my motivation is that all admissions to La Cite de Vin come with a free drink (FREE!) at the 8th floor bar, Le Belvedere. To my everlasting shame, I was too full after my meal at Le 7 to take advantage of this offer. I knew that the day when I couldn't take advantage of a freebie would eventually come but I'm still astonished that it transpired when free Bordeaux wine was at stake.
Splurge: Shop for books and more on Rue de la Porte Dijeaux
What is consistently the biggest splurge in my life, beside travel? Books! Bordeaux is a great shopping destination and the pedestrian Rue de la Port Dijeaux is home to many temptations. Chief among them is Mollat, France's largest independent bookshop. In an act of heroism that will never be equaled, I walked through Mollat but refrained from shopping. How strong am I? And why didn't I take more photos of this street and all its lovely shops? This could technically be a save or a steal if you find bargains or just enjoy the window shopping but I suspect my next visit will have this firmly under the "splurge" category for me!
Splurge: An afternoon trip to Arcachon
My trip to the coastal Arcachon had a few ups and downs and it's all because I tried to make it a "save" when it should have been a "splurge".
Done my DIY way, I paid around 30 Euros for my return train ticket, about seven additional Euros (cash only!) to store my bags at a train station locket (Pro tips: Take a photo of your locker number and the office opening/closing hours for your own peace of mind) and a little bit more for ice cream. BUT if you do it right, you'll spend a lot more.
For starters, Arcachon is home to France's finest oysters and having a seaside feast of seafood at an overpriced retro-bar is practically mandatory (alas I missed the local lunch hour and restaurants were only serving drinks or group-sized platters. Sigh.) The area is also home to the Dune de Pilat, Europe's largest sand dune. This is another part of my plan that didn't quite come together. I planned on taking a bus but public transit is limited on weekends and the off-season (You might want to do a bit of a deep dig with the schedule - I wasn't as comprehensive as I thought I was and was out of luck as a result). Taxis are costly and should be ordered in advance, otherwise it's a mad scramble after the train arrives and even then it looks like a lot of taxi drivers abandon reservations in favour of a first-come, first-served approach. With no realistic chance to visit the dunes, I stuck to the town, walking around the (admittedly very nice) public beach and feeling rather hungry and ambivalent until it was time to catch the train home.
Days earlier, I had the option of hiring a private driver (300 Euros for me and friend) to take us around Arcachon, the dunes, and a recommended restaurant. It felt too pricey at the time but I bet it would have offered me a lot more value than what I ended up doing, however much enjoyed picking up shells on the beach!
This is one situation that I wish I had traded money for ease and convenience. If you opt to do your own thing via train, see if you can nab a seat on the coastal side of the track. It might not look it at first but there are some good views to enjoy.
Splurge: Tour wine country
Is a visit to Bordeaux's wine country really a splurge when it's actually the best darn thing you can do with your money? Hmmmm.... While you certainly can go all-in when it comes to splurging on wine in and around Bordeaux (Private tours! Sleeping at Chateaux!), it CAN be done at a relatively modest price, all things considered. Epic volumes could be written about where to go, what to see, and where to do tastings.
To start your research, head to the tourism board's website. They have a long list of private and group tours, ranging from quick tasting experiences at an estate to a day-long deluxe tour with lunch.
Another excellent option is to visit the Chateaux closest to Bordeaux using bikes or public transit. True, they're not exactly "hidden gems" when they're so close to the well trodden tourist trail but they're a top option when you have just a day or afternoon to spare.
Steal: The sights and sounds of Grand Théâtre
Bordeaux's opera house, le Grand Théâtre always feels like the centre of the city to me (though I'm sure, this is neither geographically accurate nor how everyone else interprets things). It was here that I killed some time back when I was backpacking in 2001 and I failed to get a last minute seat on a wine tour bus. I soon learned that le Grand Théâtre is much, much more than just a backup plan! Though things have been paused by the pandemic, guided tours of this magnificent building will return and they cost a mere 10 Euros. You can find more info here and also here.
However, if you're under 28, you might want to save a few bucks and head to a performance instead. You would pay just 8 Euros (SUCH a steal!) for any performance ticket purchased 48 hours in advance (or 50% off if you book earlier than that). But that's not all! I found an EVEN BETTER deal in the fine print. If you're 28 or younger, you'll pay just €1 for Sunday concerts, Midis Musicaux, and Apéro-Concerts. ONE EURO for a concert in what is arguably France's finest opera house. Tell me that isn't the steal-iest of all steals.
Steal: La Cite du Vin
The site of my epic lunch, Bordeaux's funky, futuristic La Cite du Vin is a museum and tribute to all things wine and I especially appreciated learning more about the history of wine merchants in the city. I must admit at times I found it overwhelming (case in point: Can ANY building really encompass everything there is to know about wine?). I also felt frustrated when I couldn't figure out some of the modern, interactive, multi-media exhibits (and ALL the exhibits are multi-media in nature). But these quibbles aside, a visit here is all but mandatory. As I mentioned above, I think a canny way to visit is to drop in for lunch, take your time exploring the museum, and finishing off the day with your free glass of wine at the rooftop bar.
That free glass of wine is what earns La Cite du Vin a place in my "steal" category. The 20 Euro admission price might feel a touch splurge-y otherwise. Another great steal awaits for Bordeaux Metropole City Pass holders. They get in for free, so long as they enter before noon.
My steal of a hotel deal: Hotel de la Presse
In any Save, Splurge, Steal article, my accommodations are often the results of careful deliberation. But not this time! I chose Hotel de la Presse based on the super-selective criteria of:
A.) I could afford it.
B.) It was mentioned in my guidebook.
C.) I was hoping it would make me feel cool, like I was a hip member of the press, staying in a hotel with decor inspired by the press (aka magazine-y stuff).
Turns out that A and B were spot on - this was a good deal and it was worthy of guidebook inclusion. Alas, I did not emerge from my stay feeling like a hip photojournalist but there's always next time. However, that little snafu aside, I loved Hotel de la Presse's location on Rue de la Prte Dijeaux. This bustling pedestrian street put in the middle of everywhere I wanted to me, made for great people watching, and I didn't have to go far to find a bakery or takeout lunch. Come night, things were quiet.
I splurged on the "prestige" room, as it offered nearly double the floor space of the standard spaces (and some have balconies but alas, I wasn't so lucky) for only about 10 Euros extra. I love a splurge that is still super affordable! However, if I was traveling on my own or knew that I'd be spending very little time in the room, I'd really take getting good value to the next level and stay in one of the single bed rooms. They're about 25 Euros less than the standard room (or 35 less than my prestige room), which is a great bargain if you're on your own.
(If you're searching for current prices, consider using my affiliate link for Expedia).
Breakfast cost an additional 12 Euros or so. There was the usual spread of croissants, baguette, yogurt, deli meats and cheese, juice, coffee, and tea. The croissants were excellent but not much else tempted me (and, okay, I will admit, I grabbed morning lattes around the corner at Starbucks. Go ahead, judge me). So in my particular case, I spent a lot of money for a couple of croissants and convenience but others might find it a great value.
Other pros in favour of Hotel de la Presse include the friendly staff (who were able to rustle up a corkscrew for me one evening for my bargain bottle at the wine shop!) and the small elevator, which was a welcomed alternative to the stairs. Less pleasant was the requirement to leave my old fashioned key at the front desk when I went out and retrieve it upon return. Stuff like this brings out the introvert in me and keeps me from dashing out for 15 minutes and then doing it all over again in an hour or two. Those with cumbersome luggage will note that this is a pedestrian street - you have to walk to access public transit and even cabs, depending on the hour, and there are a few steps you need to navigate at the front door and on your way to the check-in desk.
All in all, a good stay in a property I have no hesitation to recommend to other travellers.
Bordeaux is waiting for you...
Whether you have two days in Bordeaux or a much longer trip, I know you'll love exploring this lovely city as much as I do.
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